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Arts & Culture

Remembering Buffalo's Michigan Avenue YMCA

Mike Desmond/WBFO News

Today, 585 Michigan Avenue is a rarely-used vacant lot, but the location holds a key place in the history of the Buffalo African-American community. For a half-century, the address was the site of the Michigan Avenue YMCA. The building was demolished in 1977, but there are local residents who don't want it to be forgotten.

On the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday, the Buffalo African American Museum Committee set up its portable display in the Buffalo Museum of Science.

Former councilmember and committee chair Clifford Bell says it was the place to go in the black community because it was designed for that community.

"We had an opportunity to have the most magnificent relationships and exchanges over the years, where they went to the Y to be educated about their health, what they should eat, what they should wear, where they should go to school, how they should interview for a job. Being taught by professional mentors who were in the community, dentists, lawyers, doctors that used to come. It was a safe haven," said Bell.

If prominent black figures came to Buffalo, it was to the Michigan Y, like activist W.E.B. DuBois. It was also a place for young people to hang out and meet each other.

Bell and other local leaders say it's an opportunity to walk people, especially young people, through a long-gone piece of local history and family histories and see how far they have come and have to go.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.